Storytelling: A Ritual of Change
I have been focusing a lot on storytelling, and how this idea of stories- and how we, as humans, communicate through our diverse languages our history and our imaginings, has been very prevalent in my life. Not only am I being asked to think about these ideas, but I’ve also been asked a few times very recently to share stories of my own.
As a human species, it seems to me that we have an instinct or desire to communicate beyond the normal scope of a creature communicating with others of its own kind to ensure survival. In one of my courses, we were debating whether there was a psychological need to establish the sort of symbolic language necessary for story-telling as well as the development of civilization. Is this enforced upon us by society? Or do we, innately, have a desire to develop that sort of abstract means of communicating? Is it there something inherently spiritual and instinctual in the practice of storytelling and communicating with others? I would say it seems so, though others in my class seemed to have a more cynical view.
Whatever the cause of it, there is undoubtedly something about this ability that makes us human. No other species – so far as we are aware, anyway – has this same drive to preserve their history and create fantasy stories through which to interpret the world and grapple with our pasts and present issues.
In another course, we discussed the importance of storytelling- beyond the simple statement of it being almost human nature- as well as the source of stories and the process of creating them. Today, there are millions of books in print- and millions more that exist only in rare, treasured copies- that contain enumerable written works. It seems to me, that with print being available- as well as infinitely more internet and digital sources- that value is attributed much more often to the written (or typed) word. That it can be read and read again by different people who don’t even need to be in the same vicinity of each other is, no doubt, useful.
I think, however, there is something of a denial in focusing so much on this supposed permanence (surely such works that are physical and thought “permanent” can be destroyed). As was mentioned by Phillip Carr-Gomm in the short documentary piece, Fable: The Lost Art of the Spoken Word, we tend to sort of deny that life- and anything in it- is sort of ephemeral and fleeting.
Storytelling, by its very nature, is just as ephemeral as anything else in life. Words once spoken can very rarely be recited again word-for-word (without proper practice and memorization). An experience of hearing a story can never be replicated even if all the conditions are met once again. It will never be exactly the same story and experience as it was in that moment. In embracing that- in embracing the fact that life is fleeting and should be lived openly as such- I think there’s a great deal of peace that can be found in that art. It connects us to that which was, but is always continuously changing with each new telling, and each new storyteller adding their own slightly different spin on it.
In stories, I think, there is a great deal of truth to be found. Classmates have suggested that stories teach moral lessons and societal values. Undoubtedly, I think this is true. But, I feel, at least in the instances that I can recall having heard and/or shared stories that there is something else at work. Within these stories, there are often a sort of universal truth to be found. Kristoffer Hughes, I believe, mentioned in From the Cauldron Born that, especially in Celtic folk tales, that there is meant to be a transformative process which the character, the audience, and perhaps even the storyteller themself goes through in the telling. What that transformative process might be could be very different depending on the individual- a story might even touch you in a different way each time you hear it. The tale of Taliesin is certainly that way for me.
For me, I suppose, storytelling is quite similar to ritual. I expect, in a great story, for there to be something that stirs in me a sense of change- no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It needs to make me think about something long after the hearing or reading of it. Even more so, I expect to find in it a connection to something- another person, the land, the divine, etc. that reminds me to come out of my tech-swamped cloud and really live in the world.
By Brenna Adaira